Florida has executed its first death-row prisoner in more than 18 months using a drug that has never before been used in a lethal injection.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the last-minute appeal from 53-year-old Mark James Asay to stay his execution, clearing the way for Asay to be put to death Thursday at 6:22 p.m., using a lethal-injection cocktail that included the untested sedative etomidate. That drug was paired with two other drugs, rocuronium bromide and potassium acetate. Both of those drugs have been used before in lethal-injection executions, though potassium acetate — which is the actual lethal dose that makes the heart stop beating — is believed to have only been used once, by mistake, during an Oklahoma execution.
Michelle Glady, a spokeswoman for the corrections department, said there were no complications during Asay’s execution. About a minute after the first drug, etomidate, was administered, his feet jerked and his mouth opened. A minute or two later he was motionless, and was pronounced dead.
Asay was convicted in 1988 for the murders of two men, which prosecutors alleged was a racially motivated attack. Asay was accused of having white-supremacist tattoos and yelling slurs during the murder of a black man, Robert Booker. On the same night, Asay also killed Robert McDowell, who was dressed as a woman at the time. Court documents originally identified McDowell as a black man, though it later was revealed that he was white or Latino. (Asay attempted to appeal on these grounds, but lost.)
Florida corrections officials told the Associated Press that etomidate has been tested, but declined to say beforehand how it would be used in Asay’s execution. According to the Washington Post, Florida introduced etomidate to its lethal-injection concoction earlier this year, as it joins other states in scrambling to find the drugs to carry out executions. High-profile cases of botched executions have helped further erode support for the death penalty, which is now at its lowest point in more than 40 years. Only a handful of states have moved forward with regular executions in recent years, and pharmaceutical companies have continued to push back against the use of their drugs in lethal injections.
Asay was also the first inmate executed after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in January 2016 Florida’s method of assigning a death sentence, because it did not require a unanimous verdict. (Incidentally, Asay was sentenced to death by a 9 to 3 vote, though he also lost an appeal on those grounds in the Florida Supreme Court.) After more legal back-and-forth, Governor Rick Scott signed a law in March 2017 requiring death-penalty sentences to be unanimous, fixing the law, and effectively allowing executions to proceed. Scott signed Asay’s death warrant in July 2017.
This post has been updated throughout.